While Christopher Nolan’s latest cinematic odyssey, Interstellar, opens in UK cinemas this month as a digital release, some cinemas, including two in Scotland, will be able to screen it earlier if they choose (and have the facilities) to show it from 35mm.
Digital vs 35mm
While it could be argued that there is no difference between the inherent “look” of a 35mm film print compared with a digital cinema version, it could also be argued exactly the other way around.
Some purists say they prefer the film look to video and prefer to shoot this way, however it ends up being projected: a recent example being the James Hall and Edward Lovelace film, The Possibilities Are Endless, which was shot on 35mm but shown digitally.
Filmmakers and distributors are, and have to be, pragmatic and know that their only hope of anything but the most exclusive release is to have their film available in digital, a Digital Cinema Package (DCP) being an internationally agreed standard format playable on standardised equipment.
“Art house” or “repertory” cinemas tend to programme proactively with a curatorial approach. Because they don’t just programme digital rereleases, they need to consider a range of projection formats including 35mm and other film gauges such as 70mm and 16mm.
Once in a while a filmmaker like Nolan may feel that they wish their film to be projected from 35mm, perhaps making the entire film, including process shots and dissolves etc., exclusively in the photochemical domain. This means that the number of venues that can still manage it is greatly reduced, but those who can make it to Aberdeen or Edinburgh will be able to sample Interstellar the way the director intended.
All white on the night?
One other point to make about the screening of 35mm prints is a cinema’s decision to use either matt white or silver screens to project a film upon. Silver is used for 3D films to increase the light reflection given that 3D is very light hungry, consuming some 85% of the normal levels. The trouble with silver is that it polarises the light, leading to the occasional hotspots on the screen and a lack of evenness of screen illumination affecting sighting, colours and contrast.
As they now screen relatively few 35mm films, most, if not all, larger cinema chains use silver screens, including the Picturehouse chain that owns Edinburgh’s Cameo, while smaller independent cinemas are still trying to hold on to their matt white screens.